The Malta Independent 28 September 2020, Monday

Court clears former ombudsman of defamation for publication of Judge Lino Farrugia letter

Wednesday, 25 January 2017, 16:57 Last update: about 5 years ago

A court has cleared former Ombudsman Mr. Justice Joseph Said Pullicino of criminal defamation and libel of Judge Lino Farrugia Sacco.

The case involved a 2012 letter sent to then President George Abela and was later published in the media.

The letter suggested to President Emeritus Abela to suspend the judge until an investigation into his involvement, in his capacity as head of the Malta Olympic Committee (MOC), with the sale of Sochi winter Olympic ticket sales had been conducted.

The scandal came to light after an investigation by the UK Newspaper The Sunday Times revealed that a number of officials, including Dr Farrugia Sacco were looking to sell official ticket allocation in return for £60,000

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The judge, along with MOC general secretary Joe Cassar, was caught on video by reporters explaining how the sale could be achieved.

The International Olympic Committee’s ethic commission later reprimanded both men.

Farrugia Sacco said that the allegations that he war implicit in corruption were completely false. 

The court, which was presided over by Magistrate Francesco Depasquale, noted that the letter may be deemed defamatory since the letter had been sent in a personal capacity. Since the later had been circulated to the press it proved that there was “sufficient evidence to prove the malice with which it had been sent.”

This, the judge claims, led to a parliamentary motion for the impeachment of the judge. 

The Ombudsman claimed that it was circulated in the press, since it is his office’s duty to be open and transparent.

He felt obligated to comment in his capacity as Ombudsman, former chief justice, and a citizen. 

In his decision, magistrate Depasquale noted that the Code of Ethics regulating the judiciary prohibited judges from accepting positions that could somehow restrict or influence them in the exercise of their duties.

“The court, cannot but observe that the principles established in the code of ethics are basic principles that should regulate every judge...which principles did not even need to be reduced to writing because they are obvious rules and principles of natural justice...” 

It was also ascertained that the Dr Farrugia Sacco told a newspaper that he would “go on working as usual. After all the corruption allegations, it turns out none of it is true. The only thing the IOC decision found was that the English journalists wanted to prove that not everything in the sports world was clean, and that they had proven that.”

It also noted that the letter had sent several months before the IOC declared that no corruption had taken place.

From the evidence it had seen, the court concluded that the defendant had not intended to cause harm to Farrugia Sacco but had wanted to express his serious concern that these allegations would undermine the public's faith in the administration of justice. 

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